by Rory Luxmoore
I should have known that this would be a challenging day. The first sign came early.
The crash of glass alerted my wife Sarah and I that we should have been paying closer attention to the hooting and screaming next door.
We opened the door to find one broken chandelier and our two children, looking rather guilty. We had been hoping to escape the generosity of our stay in Ancona, Italy, without any incidents — and fortunately, our extended family and hosts understood.
With our car packed and the children dreaming of being gladiators in the Colosseum we were nearly ready to set off to Rome. Yet, before the tires started to roll, another sign became apparent.
My wife and I are fortunate to have a relationship that works. The seas are mostly calm, however there were a few waves this morning. Sarah had painstakingly packed away many of our momentous keepsakes from our trip so far, into a box; Venetian masks from Venice, sand from Iceland, shells from the Mediterranean.
She had also placed our tent, which had served us well in the trip, into the box. The box lay on the kitchen table awaiting to be sent back to our home in Revelstoke, Canada. Yet, wanting to direct the ship into stormier weather I asked that we keep the tent “just in case” and the box, with all its mementos, came with us.
The last time my wife and I had visited Rome, thirteen years ago, we had arrived on bike as part of our pedal powered trip from Lisbon to Athens.
This time, with a car, should have been much easier. But, as we got closer to the Colosseum, our anticipation grew and we were not too worried to find we had missed a turn. Our new route took us to a quiet road alongside an ancient wall lined with parked cars. As we looked at our map we realized that we were less than a kilometre away and our legs were begging to get some exercise after the long drive.
As I parked and stepped out of the car, my feet were greeted by a dirty puddle filling the cracked pavement. Moments later my daughter Alexandra found herself laying in that puddle as my wife accidentally pulled the trunk door onto her head. The day was not going well.
Off we went and on our way we were greeted by garbage strewn around and smashed car glass, signs that Rome is not the place it used to be. It should have been a sign for us as well, but we were dreaming of being taken back two thousand years to a time when Rome was the centre of the universe — and we would be in it.
We were well prepared for our visit to the famed Colosseum. Our children had done research projects on this famed city as part of their homeschooling on their year away. We managed to avoid the opportunistic gladiators parked outside the colosseum.
Two centuries ago they used to fight for their freedom inside the building against their fellow foes and exotic animals, now they strut outside with their colourful armour hoping tourists will want to preserve a memory of times gone by with a photo. Last time we were there we were reluctantly lightened of our load of money. As we passed by today we realized things have not changed much as three gladiators were helping a young man to find 20 euros for their recently taken photo.
Once inside we joined the thousands of other tourists in marvelling at this architectural beauty that symbolized the power and creativity of ancient Rome.
Sightseeing is tiring and this day was no exception. We were looking forward to driving away from the busyness of the capital city and rest comfortably near the ocean. Yet, the evening would turn out to be longer and more stressful than anticipated.
As we turned the last corner on our long walk back our beloved Renault Clio came into view. It is hard to miss with its bright red French license plates given to those from out of country with a long term lease.
As I approached it I sensed something was wrong. I peered into the back window wondering why the back was empty. I then noticed that I was standing on glass. I am not much for swearing, but my children were loudly greeted with a rich vocabulary of vulgarity.
We gathered around the car staring into the vacant space that recently contained our belongings.
My beloved Arcterxyx backpack that has been my faithful companion on trips to South Eastern Africa, Europe and Asia and seen many mountains and rivers throughout western Canada.
My son’s journal that had followed him across Canada to the hot springs in Iceland, the streets of London, the hills of France and the canals of the Netherlands. Each word and picture documenting rich memories that must now be kept close in his head not paper.
Our clothes, our sleeping bags, our tent, our home away from home. Gone.
When it comes to theft, the receivers are often not picky. In this case it looks like they (I am presuming) just wanted to take everything and then assess their windfall later. We later had a few laughs as we imagined their disappointed faces as they first peered into the bags. One contained the children’s unfinished school work. This was one bag our kids did not cry over. Another held personal travel documents much needed for us by useless to them. Our packs held well used clothing and supplies. And then there was our box that should have made it home.
After adding water to the puddle from our wet eyes we moved on as we know we must after adversity.
Gratefully we discovered helping hands everywhere we turned. The first was a carabinieri (police officer) who was quick to commiserate with us and direct us to the nearest police station.
The next was the young police officer who patiently proceeded our claim but not surprisingly did not hold much optimism that our belongings would be returned. The last helping hands that night were an Italian couple who opened their home for us and helped remove some of the fear and fatigue we were fighting.
The next couple of weeks proved to be a rich time for all of us. Although we no longer had much of our “things” we did have each other, our health and still a strong belief in the goodness of humanity. Each day we were showered with kindness.
A young man was collecting hay in his field when he accidentally broke his arm. His neighbours commented, “what bad luck”. The young man replied, “good luck, bad luck who knows”. The next week an army recruiter came by to draft soldiers for the army. The young man was spared. A year later, the young man’s horse ran away. The neighbours responded, “what bad luck”. After a few days the horse returned followed by two others.
Was our incident good luck or bad luck? I am not sure. It certainly was not wise. There were many signs that should have alerted us. Yet, it has made us stronger.
We lost material possessions that can and were replaced. Other belongings cannot be replaced but they are etched in our memories and they can never be taken away. I often think of where our “stuff” now lies. I hope they are being used and loved. Perhaps some it it will end up in the hands of some who really need it. A sleeping bag to keep one warm at night, a jacket to comfort, food to fill an empty belly, some toys to bring a smile to a child’s face. This experience has also given us the opportunity to feel the abundant love and kindness that surrounds us.